Q. I work for an organization that seems to be committed to the next Big Idea. It has vision statements, abstract goals and no specific plans. I'm a relatively new hire and trying to be successful. Is there a way to succeed when I have no idea what my employer really wants?
A. Yes, you will need to insist methodically and patiently on getting the people around you to give you behavior you can see as if on a video screen. If you try to guess at the definitions attached to the abstract language you are hearing, you'll only guarantee your failure and confusion.
Most managers and organizations have realized that most people most of the time will be too anxious to admit they have no idea what labels like teamwork, customer satisfaction and excellence really mean. Thus, many people get away with looking like they know what they are doing without having any actual steps in mind.
Be aware that when you ask for concrete behavior, actions and results, you will at first get blank stares. Give people time and room to save face and go off to figure out what they are talking about. Otherwise your coworkers will be embarrassed and they'll attack you for asking reasonable questions.
Most of us know that on the job we want to make money, enjoy our work and earn the respect of our coworkers. Just as in our personal lives, we seek goals like "happiness." The trouble is most of us haven't defined specifically what these ideas mean.
The only way we can develop an action plan for success is to know exactly where we want to end up. If we define more money as obtaining 10 percent more customers, we can plan for that outcome. If we vaguely say we want our department to be "more profitable" it is pretty hard to figure out what to do tomorrow.
Many of my clients create a lot of suffering for themselves when they assume that they don't understand something at work because they are too dense. The truth is this: if you don't understand something on the job, there's a good chance nobody else is really clear about the problem either.
Your ability to gently help your coworkers figure out what concrete result they want will be less impressive than spouting another Big Idea at your next meeting. But your contribution to facilitating an action plan will lower everyone's anxiety and increase everyone's productivity.
After a while you'll become a sought out internal consultant to people who see that when you're around, Big Ideas turn into something even better -- results.
The last word(s)
Q. I have an option to select one of two mentors; one seems to know everything and is very impressive, the other mentor is more unassuming and talks about his mistakes. Would it be a mistake to go with the mentor I find most impressive?
A. Yes, humility is the bedrock of both effectiveness and intelligence. Pick the humble mentor.
(Daneen Skube, Ph.D., executive coach, trainer, therapist and speaker, also appears as the FOX Channel's "Workplace Guru" each Monday morning. She's the author of "Interpersonal Edge: Breakthrough Tools for Talking to Anyone, Anywhere, About Anything" (Hay House, 2006). You can contact Dr. Skube at http://www.interpersonaledge.com or 1420 NW Gilman Blvd., #2845, Issaquah, WA 98027. Sorry, no personal replies.)